County braces for cooler temperatures

LAWRENCEVILLE - Valerie Richardson is ready for cold weather.

"I like it cold because you get to layer your clothes and you get to wear your boots," the Buford resident said. "I'm excited to dress up like that."

Gwinnettians should expect colder-than-average temperatures throughout the weekend, but the mercury will start climbing back to the normal range by the end of next week, a forecaster in the Peachtree City office of the National Weather Service said.

The high temperature today is expected to be 53 degrees, and tonight's low is projected to be about 38, forecaster Laura Griffith said. Sunday should be slightly warmer, with a projected high of about 56.

"As we work our way into fall, the temperatures decrease, but these temperatures are below normal," she said. "We'll have a fairly chilly start to our week, but that should warm up."

A cold front brought clouds into the area, and those clouds have been acting like an insulatory blanket, preventing it from warming up during the day, Griffith said. Those clouds also prevented temperatures from dipping into the 30s Friday night, but a high pressure system will push the clouds through the area today.

Once the clouds leave, the daily high temperatures will start climbing, Griffith said. By Wednesday, the highs are expected to be around 70.

The 30-year average high temperature for October is 72.9, while the average low temperature is 52.8.

"(This weekend) our high temperatures are barely going to see what we typically expect for our low temperatures," Griffith said.

With cooler temperatures comes the potential for an increase in structure fires.

"During the cold weather months, home heating tends to be a leading cause of residential fires in Gwinnett County," said Capt. Thomas Rutledge, spokesman for the Gwinnett County Fire Department.

Many of these fires occur because of poorly maintained heating appliances and fireplaces or portable heaters that are placed too close to combustible materials, he said.

Following simple fire safety rules can help ensure your family's safety, Rutledge said. Install and maintain working smoke detectors on every level of your home, develop a home escape plan, practice fire drills with the entire family, purchase escape ladders for upper floors, have a multi-purpose dry-chemical fire extinguisher for use on small fires, install a carbon monoxide detector, and have all home heating appliances services annually, preferably before the cold weather season starts.

Here are other safety tips:

· When turned on for the first time, furnaces may produce a burning smell or a slight odor of dust inside the home. This happens because the furnace sits unused during the spring or summer and is not a cause for alarm. But if the odor and dust persists while the furnace is in use, shut the appliance off and call a service technician. Call the fire department if there is any sign of smoke or fire from a heating appliance or inside your home.

· Have your furnace serviced annually by a certified professional to reduce the chances of a fire starting and prevent carbon monoxide emergencies.

· If you use space heaters, keep combustible materials such as clothing boxes and furniture at least three feet away from the appliance in all directions. It's also a good idea to place them out of the way of high traffic areas. Turn the space heater off if you leave your home for any period of time or when you go to sleep.

· Only use a fireplace or wood stove that has been installed properly. The chimney should be cleaned and inspected annually be a certified professional.

· Check the damper to ensure that is open when the fireplace is in use, and never close the damper when hot ashes are in the fireplace. Closing the damper could cause toxic levels of carbon monoxide to spread throughout the home.

· Use a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace to keep hot embers or sparks from jumping out and igniting furniture or carpeting.

· Before going to sleep, make sure that the fire in the fireplace is out. Hot ashes from the fireplace should be placed in a metal container and removed from the home. Place the container outside at a safe distance away from the house.

· Never use a range-top stove or an oven as a supplemental way to stay warm. Not only is it a safety hazard, it could also be a source of potentially toxic fumes.

· Carbon monoxide can kill or cause long-lasting health problems. Early signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, sleepiness, nausea and dizziness. If you suddenly feel these symptoms, open all doors and windows to ventilate your home and go outside in the fresh air. If the fresh air brings relief, have your home heating appliances checked. Call 911 if you experience medical complications related to a carbon monoxide leak.